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  Listen Up! 1/9/02 Listen Up!

Wednesday, Jan. 9

Isley Brothers, "3 + 3," Tneck Records. I came in more than halfway through this album, and realized that aside from the magnificent hits ("That Lady" and "Summer Breeze"), I had never actually heard it before. Which means I was totally unprepared for their slightly funky and decidedly funny take on "Sunshine (Go Away Today)," a pop song from 1972 so insipid that I don't think I'd thought of it at all in 20 years. The Isleys loved to take pop songs that I didn't like - "Summer Breeze" being the classic example - and turn them into something special. "Sunshine" isn't exactly special, but it's kinda cool to hear Ronnie Isley get all worked up about it.

Benny Goodman, "Ken Burns Jazz," Columbia Legacy. You could do far worse than to just snap up all the Ken Burns Jazz CDs and call that "Jazz 101." The fact is, you'll still have about 10,000 great records to buy after these, but these are uniformly great introductions to many major artists in the genre. Goodman was a huge star, and he was considerably less complex musically than many of his contemporaries. But, he swung like a motherfucker, and his bands were always hot, fun, and powerful.

Centro-Matic, "Distance and Clime," Idol Records. It's not amazing to me that so many musicians lack basic rhythm skills, or that they prefer to play sloppy rather than tight. It's not amazing to me that so many bands hire singers with pitch problems and a lack of range or power in their voices. What is amazing to me is that so many of these indie rock pieces of shit over the last dozen years or so all sound exactly the fucking same! They all sound like Dinosaur, Jr., that same whiny voice that wavers around a few notes and pretends it's singing tunes, and that same pounding 4/4 beat that never solidifies, and that same raunchy guitar tone that never quite fits in the rhythmic pockets that are supposed to make rock'n'roll music so physically exhilarating.

Various Artists, "Number One Country Legendary Hits Volume 2," Razor & Tie Records. All of these hit the top of the country charts between 1950 and 1970, so that means the odds are they're pretty damn good. Yup, they are. Some are ingrained in our national consciousness - "White Lightning" by George Jones, "Lovesick Blues" by Hank Williams, "I Fall to Pieces" by Patsy Cline. Some are familiar because we've heard rock acts do the same songs - "I'm Moving On" by Hank Snow, and "A Satisfied Mind" by Porter Wagoner. The songs I don't know, especially trifles like "Shot Gun Boogie" by Tennessee Ernie Ford or "Slow Poke" by Pee Wee King, are revelations. You don't think country music had an interest in rhythm? Listen closely to the many variants of the acoustic guitars and fiddles holding down the beats throughout these gems.

The Beatles, "The Beatles," Capitol Records. This is the one they call "The White Album," on account of the cover is white. I just got back from lunch, and "Ob-La-Di-La-Da" was on the stereo. Have you ever been struck by exactly how perfectly constructed a little gem this song is? For that matter, have you ever been struck by just how masterful each and every song on this double record is? (Alright, I'm not hearing "Revolution #9" today, and I know some of these are very much throwaways.) You know, the Beatles really were great, and every once in a while, I get dumbfounded when I realize I'd been taking them for granted again.

--Steve Pick



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